India to Exit Lockdown in Phases Even as Infections Surge

India announced a phased lifting of the lockdown by allowing malls, restaurants and places of worship to open from June 8.

India to Exit Lockdown in Phases Even as Infections Surge
People wear protective masks while walking in Lodhi Gardens after the New Delhi Municipal Corp. reopened parks and gardens for limited activities, during a partial lockdown imposed due to the Coronavirus, in New Delhi. (Photographer: T. Narayan/Bloomberg)

(Bloomberg) --

India announced a phased lifting of the nationwide lockdown by allowing malls, restaurants and places of worship to open from June 8, as the country attempts to revive an economy ravaged by the world’s toughest stay-at-home restrictions.

The country, which had enforced sweeping and strict orders March 25, will limit the stringent rules to areas that have a large number of active cases, until at least June 30. Authorities will decide on opening schools and colleges in July, while resumption of international air travel is planned only in the final phase.

The exit plan comes even as India, which has the most number of infections in Asia, has been unable to flatten its curve despite the restrictions, leaving its already troubled economy in deep disrepair. In the most recent phase of its lockdown, which ends on May 31, the South Asian nation allowed the resumption of some domestic flights and interstate rail services.

India has been easing out of its strict lockdown since April 20 with its economy likely headed for its first full-year contraction in more than four decades. Gross domestic product expanded 3.1% in the three months through March from a year ago, the Statistics Ministry said in a statement in New Delhi on Friday.

The country’s strict restrictions forced some 122 million people out of jobs in April alone, according to estimates by the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy Pvt. and is likely to push at least 12 million people into extreme poverty, according to World Bank estimates.

Despite the relaxation of curbs to allow industry to start functioning again, most businesses are still struggling to take off because of travel restrictions, broken supply chains and a flight of labor from cities back to the relative safety of their villages.

The latest decision means restrictions on domestic flight movements -- currently capped at one third of a previous schedule -- will also be lifted, according to Arun Kumar, head of India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation.

“However, in view of the prevailing sentiments the scaling up will be gradual and shall factor in the sensitivities of all stakeholders,” Kumar said in response to a query.

The South Asian nation’s death toll hit 4,983 on Saturday, climbing past the 4,638 fatalities from Covid-19 in China. The nation of 1.3 billion people now has the highest number of fatalities in Asia, excluding Iran, despite the largest lockdown in the world. Still it is far behind the number of cases and deaths seen in places like the U.S., U.K., Brazil and Russia.

Infections rose to 174,496 on Saturday, the ninth highest globally, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

The country’s death toll quadrupled in less than a month, accelerating by more than 1,000 over the past week, while infections have been soaring at a similar pace. Government experts have begun to acknowledge the outbreak won’t peak until June or July.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.